COP23 Roundup

downloadLast week, the latest UN Climate Change Conference was held in Bonn, Germany. It was the first such conference to take place since the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and with Syria becoming a signatory during the conference, the US is now the only country in the world not to be a party to the agreement.

The conference again brought the topic of climate change to the centre of the international political arena and amid the general calls for action and greater urgency, concrete commitments were made. I will discuss some of the key take-aways here.

1. Launch of Powering Past Coal Alliance 

The UK and Canada spearheaded the launch of a new initiative aimed at phasing out traditional coal power. Although there is no firm timeframe commitment, the alliance’s declaration states that traditional coal power needs to be phased out by no later than 2030 in the OECD and EU28, and no later than 2050 in the rest of the world.

The alliance was joined by more than 20 entities including Denmark, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Mexico, the Marshall Islands and the US states of Washington and Oregon. Michael Bloomberg also pledged $50m to expanding his anti-coal US campaign to Europe.

However, notable abstainees from the pledge included the US, China, India and Germany.

2. Launch of Ocean Pathway Initiative

With Fiji holding the rotating presidency at COP23, it was expected that there would be an initiative focussing on the oceans and climate change. As a Pacific Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Fiji is particularly vulnerable to the destructive effects of climate change on the oceans, through rising sea levels to overheating.

The Ocean Pathway initiative has reaffirmed the Call for Action issued at the UN Ocean Conference earlier this year and seeks funding for ocean health and maintenance of ecosystems from UN climate change funding initiatives. The initiative has also launched the Oceans Pathway Partnership to link existing ocean activities and promote cooperation.

3. Financing climate action

During the conference, a number of significant funding commitments were announced, including:

  • Adaptation Fund: This fund, established under the Kyoto Protocol, finances projects and programmes that help vulnerable communities in developing countries adapt to climate change. To date, it has committed US$462 million in 73 countries. This year, it was officially committed to serve under the Paris Agreement framework and country contributions have exceeds the 2017 target with contributions of EUR 50 million from Germany and EUR 7 million from Italy.
  • Norway and Unilever fund: US$400 million fund established for public and private investment in more resilient socioeconomic development. The fund will invest in business models that combine investments in high productivity agriculture, smallholder inclusion and forest protection.
  • Amazon rainforest fund: Germany and the UK have committed US$ 153 million to fight climate change and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
  • Initiative 20×20 investment: World Resources Institute announced a US$ 2.1 billion investment to restore degraded lands in Latin America and the Caribbean.

4. Launch of Below50 Initiative

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) launched the below50 initiative, initially in North America, South America and Australia, to create greater demand and more markets for sustainable fuels, i.e. fuels that produce at least 50% less CO2 emissions than conventional fossil fuels. The initiative aims to bring together the entire value-chain for sustainable fuels and scale up their deployment.

Finally, despite US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Michael Bloomberg’s “We’re Still In” coalition of US cities, states and companies, was out in force at COP23, showing the world that large parts of America are still fully committed to the targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

And as the conference delegates begin to reflect on the week’s achievements, the biggest hope is that the commitments are kept and promises are delivered. With record levels of funding now being directed towards tackling climate change, there really is no excuse not to act.

 

 

 

ChangeNOW!

image1 (4)This weekend your blogger went along to the inaugural ChangeNow! conference in Paris. The conference describes itself as one of the first international events on the topic of “innovations for good”. It focussed on the UN Sustainability Goals in the fields of energy, circular economy, healthcare, education, sustainable cities and tech for good.

A couple of key take-aways from the conference:

Energy

On the topic of energy, we heard from a variety of speakers, including Jerome Schmitt, Senior VP Innovation and Energy Efficiency at TOTAL Gas and Power, Dr Michael Dorsey, full member at the Club of Rome, global energy expert and co-founder and principal at Around the Corner Capital, and energy industry disruptors Meteoswift, Echy and Zephyr Solar. A number of key themes emerged.

Firstly, Jerome Schmitt discussed the important role that traditional oil and gas companies should play in the energy transition. He acknowledged that companies such as TOTAL are not safe from renewable energy and clean tech distruptors. However, the cost and technology race in solar and wind power over the last few years has actually resulted in many start-up renewable energy companies going bankrupt. Schmitt believes that oil and gas companies should partner with renewable energy companies and provide the necessary funding to enable them to scale-up. For example, since 2011, TOTAL has owned a majority stake in Sunpower, a solar energy company.

Secondly, both Jerome Schmitt and Michael Dorsey discussed the trend of decentralisation in the energy supply industry with the rise of microgrids and the use of blockchain technology to permit peer-to-peer energy supply. However, Dr Dorsey contended that large utility companies may drag down such innovative progress by preventing third parties from supplying existing grids or by lobbying governments to introduce restrictive regulations.

Thirdly, one other way that the energy industry may evolve is through the development of innovative non-electricity reliant solutions. For example, Echy has developed technology to harness sunlight to light-up buildings with natural daylight. The technology results in electricity savings of approximately 68% as Echy lighting does not use electricity. Many of the speakers predicted that more and more such non-electricity reliant solutions will come to the fore in the next 5-10 years.

Tech for good

The theme of tech for good was prevalent throughout the entire conference. Ynse de Boer, Managing Director at Accenture, delivered the introductory talk on this topic.

De Boer proposed four ways to ensure that technology is used as a force for good. Firstly, companies using technological solutions must ensure that their customers are protected, supported and educated about how their data and information are used. Secondly, businesses and governments need to anticipate that the jobs of the future will not be the same as the jobs of today but instead of using technology to eradicate jobs, it should be used to complement them, improving productivity. Thirdly, technology should be directed towards delivering innovative products and services and used to solve largescale social issues. Finally, technology should be used to create transparent and inclusive value chains, facilitated through the use of mobile and digital technology.

According to de Boer, governments, business and not-for-profit organisations all need to work together to ensure that technology is used efficiently and always as a force for good.

Cleaning the oceans

The session on ocean clean-up introduced three different companies that are working on cleaning up our oceans – TheSeaCleaners, Adidas and Plastic Odyssey.

TheSeaCleaners work on removing rubbish from seas, harbours and oceans. Since 2002, their team has removed over 5.1 million litres of rubbish and they are continuing to gain momentum.

Adidas has recently teamed up with Parley to develop a range of trainers made from discarded plastic. According to Adidas, each pair of these trainers prevents approximately 11 plastic bottles from entering the oceans.

Finally, Plastic Odyssey are working to create innovative, small scale, local solutions to plastic waste. They are developing a boat that will spend three years travelling between Africa, Asia and South America, fuelled exclusively by plastic collected from the oceans and converted into fuel. The boat will stop off at numerous locations to work with local communities to understand their recycling needs and develop unique solutions.

The conference also included sessions on the future of agriculture, healthcare and the creation of sustainable cities.

It was heartening to see such enthusiasm and creative buzz for positive impact projects and issues. Governments and business can no longer ignore the need for purposeful investment and regulatory structures that are favourable to the social entrepreneur. The trend has started and it won’t be long before it really takes off! Are you ready?

A Call for Action for our Oceans

loggerhead-turtle-123402_1920On 9 June, the first UN Ocean Conference came to an end. Deemed a resounding success by President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, the conference achieved the adoption of a 14 point Call for Action.

The Call for Action signatories affirmed their “strong commitment to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. They recognised the importance the oceans play in maintaining our ecosystem, through the supply of oxygen and the absorption of carbon dioxide, and therefore, recommitted to the Paris Agreement climate change targets. They affirmed the need to “enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea“. They committed to “accelerate actions to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds” and to “implement long-term and robust strategies to reduce the use of plastics and microplastics”.

Equally impressively, the conference resulted in over 1300 voluntary commitments having been registered. These are commitments on the part of governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders to uphold the aims of Sustainable Development Goal 14.

Furthermore, the delegates from China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines declared that they would begin tackling the problem of plastic waste from their countries ending up in the oceans. According to findings from the Helmholtz Centre in Leipzig, Germany, 75% of global plastic debris delivered by rivers to the sea comes from just 10 rivers, which are predominantly in Asia and reducing the plastic loads in these rivers by 50% would reduce global plastic inputs by 37%.

According to Andrew Hudson, head of the water and ocean governance progamme at the United Nations Development Programme, “This has been the biggest demonstration of interest in protecting our oceans – the biggest commitment to action. It’s really good, everybody is doing something,”.

 

 

“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is clearly Ocean.”*

P1030434The oceans and seas of the world cover 2/3 of the surface area of our planet. They feed us, absorb carbon dioxide, emit half of the oxygen generated by plants and contain an abundance of natural resources, from hydrocarbons to minerals. However, they are being used and abused.

Over-fishing is depleting fish stocks and affecting the stability of the marine eco-system. Pollution, especially from plastic, is having a devastating effect on marine life and is economically detrimental to fisheries and tourism. With five trillion pieces of plastic currently floating in the oceans, in 2015, Globalwatch Institute estimated that the annual cost of ocean pollution from plastic equals approximately US$13 billion.* Plastic toxins are also finding their way into our food-chain, having been absorbed by fish and other sea-based foodstuff that we consume. Finally, growing CO2 emissions are raising the acidity of the oceans as increasing levels of carbon dioxide are absorbed by the oceans and converted into carbonic acid. This again affects marine life, bleaching coral reefs and dissolving the shells of crustaceans. The oceans also absorb much of the planet’s generated heat contributing to increasing ocean temperatures and rising sea-levels.

This is not sustainable. Steps need to be taken to arrest and reverse these trends.

Luckily, the international community is taking notice. In September 2016, John Kerry hosted the 2016 Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C., the third such conference. The conference raised US$5.24 billion in commitments to protect the oceans. The 27 May edition of the Economist ran a cover story about the health of our oceans. And this week the UN is hosting the first ever UN Ocean Conference in New York aimed at progressing Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “Life under Water”. It is expected that the conference will adopt a Call for Action to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, to be shared on this blog once available.

However, intergovernmental commitments alone will not solve these issues. Action can and should be taken at corporate and individual level. Here are a few examples of innovations and initiatives helping our oceans:

Research Expedition Vessel: Kjell Inge Roekke, the tenth-richest man in Norway, with a net worth of over $2 billion and a background in fishing, industrial trawling and oil, recently announced his plans to contribute his great fortune to causes that will benefit society. His first initiative is a marine research vessel that will remove five tons of plastic from the ocean daily, melting it to ensure that it can do no harm. The ship will be managed by the WWF.

Global Fishing Watch: This is a joint SkyTruth, Oceana and Google platform which monitors global fishing activity by pooling together historical data from a satellite-based vessel monitoring system. It uses an algorithm to track fishing activity and is open for use by anyone with an internet connection. The aim of this initiative is to tackle over-fishing and help generate smart and effective fishing policies.

SkySails: One of a host of so-called “green shipping initiatives” aimed at reducing fuel consumption by cargo ships through innovative design. SkySails provides cargo ships with high altitude sails enabling them to capitalise on the stronger wind energy available at high altitudes and thereby, reducing their fuel use.

The Ocean Cleanup: The company has developed a plastic waste collection system which aims at removing half of plastic waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years. Their system is a floating, rather than fixed, solution meaning it is more efficient at collecting waste and it is energy neutral. The system is currently being piloted but the creators are working at scaling up the system to deploy it worldwide by 2020.

If you know of any other great initiatives that deserve a mention, please send these in!

 

* quote from Clarke, Arthur C. 1917